Will We Have Two First Time Winners at the Aussie Open ?

We haven’t had too many first time slam winners in the past few years, especially on the men’s side, could we end up with two of them at the Australian Open?

2009 Australian Open: Day 2

Our little enclave in the middle of Hollywood, Tinseltown, put up a big television screen in front of the Beachwood Market and gathered at 9am this morning to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. This tells you the importance of today because I’ve lived through quite a number of presidents by now and I’ve never seen any community I lived in join together and bear witness to an inauguration.

There was also a dose of reality. One of my neighbors had to leave early because, he said, “I’ve got to get to work. I have to lay off a few people today.”

I was thinking that Serena Williams might have turned up at an inauguration ball in some stunning outfit or other until I remembered that Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to steer clear of politics. In any case, she’s in Melbourne looking for her fourth Australian Open title and the cycles favor her. She’s won it every other year since 2003.

She looks like a deadhead with her quasi tie-dyed tennis outfit, albeit in very undead shades of the same color – aqua blue – that make her dress blend into the court at times. I almost wondered if she’d dive into the court and cool off like those kids who catapult into the basketball court in the Sprite “Liquid Freedom” ad . Would that be surreal or what? It certainly would have gone through my mind, especially as you’d think the organizers would stop torturing the players and close the roof under these flaming conditions. Isn’t that why the roof’s there?

Elena Dementieva looked like frozen fruit juice in her all orange outfit as she hugged a long bag of ice to her chest during the changeover. If I’d only seen her serve and had to guess which player it was, I might have been wrong because her serve actually now looks like a serve. There’s a knee bend, a trunk twist, and a toss that puts the ball more or less where it should be. Most of all, she serves with a nice rhythm, but her serving problems are not all physical. She lost her serve six times in her match with Kristina Barrois before winning in three sets.

Elena and Serena are the story here since defending champion Maria Sharapova isn’t quite finished rehabbing the tear in her shoulder and Ana Ivanovic is still shaky. I love, love Jelena Jankovic but I don’t have her winning a slam against a heavy hitter like Serena. On the other hand, Elena, like Jelena, has never won a slam and that brings up today’s question: Will the Australian Open end with titles for two first time winners?

Not on the women’s side. Elena is in Serena’s half of the draw so Jelena could very well reach the final, but my money is on Serena and here’s why – as if I need any more reasons than she’s already given us. She’s in shape and she’s feisty. She got mad early in her first round match when she couldn’t convert break points and then she threw in some attitude. After slamming a short lob into the court and over the court boundary in the second set, she struck a pose and stared down her already overpowered opponent, Meng Yuan, in case she needed any more convincing that Serena is a bad dude. Serena passed through to the second round in straight sets.

On the men’s side: maybe. Maybe Andy Murray will win it. I wouldn’t put my money on him but I wouldn’t put money on anyone else on the men’s side either. People said Murray lost last year’s US Open final to Federer because he was exhausted from his semifinal victory over Nadal and he was, but Federer also out-maneuvered him with the short ball. Murray played a lot of four set matches and one five set match in that slam. If you look at Federer’s slam resume, you’ll find very few four set matches and precious few five set matches, and that could be an advantage in Australia with the court temperature hovering around 120 degrees Fahrenheit/49 degrees Celsius. If Murray does the same thing here – and long matches are one of the hazards of being more of a counterpuncher than a puncher, Federer has a chance to tie Pete Sampras with 14 slams.

Or, Murray could win by default. He’s beaten Federer twice this year already and as you can see, Federer now needs help to win a slam in the form of, for example, an exhausted finals opponent. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a bad back, Novak Djokovic is screwing around with a new racket, Juan Marin Del Potro isn’t quite ready as he himself said this week, and Rafael Nadal’s body is unlikely to weather these broiling conditions.

Who would you put your money on?